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24.11.2015, 16:00
Mighty Buducnost top the power rankings
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FEATURE: Five women’s handball experts from all across Europe had their say in selecting the top 10 sides, after the initial six rounds of action in the Women’s EHF Champions League.

»EHF CL Channel »2015-16 Women's CL
»Main Round
»
 

Mighty Buducnost top the power rankings

Rostov or Buducnost? CSM or Györ? Larvik or Vardar? All the experts agree, we are witnessing a very balanced season thus far, and as the Women’s EHF Champions League goes away until February, there will be a lot of material to think about as the main round encounters await.

Women’s handball connoisseurs Bence Martha (Hungary), Zoran Milosavljevic (Serbia), Peter Bruun (Denmark), Adrian Costeiu (Romania) and Nemanja Savic (Serbia) reflect on the group matches to give the readers of ehfCL.com their expert insight on the power rankings after six matches played in each group (with the exception of Group B, where Fleury vs Thüringer match has been rescheduled for 6 January).

47 matches played across four groups and among 16 teams, from which 12 of the best have made it into the main round.

Three teams will have the bragging rights of being undefeated in their group mathes – the defending champions Buducnost, and the dark horse FTC and Rostov; with the later the only side with maximum points, having recorded all six wins so far in the Champions League.

It will be difficult to predict anything in a season, which turns the dark horse into a favourite, however, the defending champions Buducnost have found its place atop four out of five expert rankings.

Rostov-Don and Györ follow closely as the second and third among the experts’ darlings, while the number four spot is tightly contested between CSM Bucuresti and Vardar.

10. HCM Baia Mare

Despite the rampant Allison Pineau leading the competition’s scoring, the rest of the big names in Baia Mare’s roster has been plagued with inconsistency.

Regardless of a difficult group, their key players Do Nascimento and Abbingh stuttered against the likes of Larvik and Rostov at home. However, promise is still there shown by their narrow defeat (26:27) away to group winners Rostov-Don after leading at half-time (16:15), and 10 goals from in-form playmaker Pineau.

With big shoes to fill, Baia Mare makes the power rankings, but it remains to be seen how big of a role this team will play in the main round and supress the label of a one-woman show.

9. Fleury Loriet Handball

The feisty les Panthères, have shown a lot of character in their Champions League baptism of fire, and it is it going to be a memorable journey for the French side, having booked the main round berth in a peculiar fashion, having their first three group matches ending with a draw.

With still one game to play (scheduled for 6 January), against Thüringer HC at home, the French team have a chance to directly decide the number two spot in the group.

Having shown a passion and perseverance to avoid all but one defeat in the group, against FTC, despite the evident lack of big names in their young team, everyone will be eager to see what the youthful Panthers have in store ahead of the main round challenges.

8. FC Midtjylland

It is evident from their performances that the Danish side have missed the Champions League. And to be honest, the Champions League has missed the flamboyant, free-flowing handball nurtured by Helle Thomsen’s crew.

While the performances of Louise Burgaard, Trine Ostergaard, Stine Jörgensen and co. have been a rollercoaster throughout, the Danes have been kryptonite for the powerful Györ in both of their matches, following an enthralling win in Hungary (26:21), as well as hard-fought draw in Ikast-Brande (22:22).

The usually attack-minded side have shown sharp fast-break play, and even spells of excellent defending, with a textbook deep 6-0 defence; however, often overpowered in deciding moments, contributing to a Jekyll and Hyde character of their performances.

7. FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria

Having marked their Champions League return this season, the Budapest-based team are among the most pleasant surprises in the competition so far.

Aside from a thrilling away draw against Fleury (28:28), FTC have swept their group rivals in a dominant fashion in all five of their encounters, being the most efficient attacking team so far in the competition with 181 goals scored.

The team’s best scorer Sandra Szollosi-Zascik is at the pinnacle of her form and has been a joy to watch, namely in her 11-goal rout of Fleury (36:23) in Round 6.

Standing shoulders above the likes of Thüringer HC, Fleury and Podravka with 11 points from six matches in what should have been a more tightly-contested group (made of four national champions), the Hungarian champion have made a statement to rise above their opponents, front-lined by the backcourt prowess of Sandra Szollosi-Zascik and Zita Szucsanszki, as well as Melinda Szikora providing good cover for injured Katarina Tomasevic in goal.

6. Larvik

Larvik’s chances have been somewhat hurt by injuries to several key players, with the twins Nora and Thea Mørk as well as Anja Hammerseng-Edin and Tine Stange are all being ruled out at times due to various injuries.

However, the Women’s EHF Champions League Power Ranking is hardly imaginable without the Norwegian powerhouse, and despite the injury worries their performances have been steadily consistent.

However, with the signature playing style they have been nurturing for years, Larvik are still showing a few vulnerabilities to be exploited by their opponents, as shown in both of their matches against Rostov are mainly due to their ‘Plan B’, or lack thereof.

Regardless, the rotation as well as the inclusion of several highly talented youngsters who are eager to impress is a trend likely to continue in the main round, in a team that has inspired benchmark performances from Amanda Kurtovic and Kristine Breistol when most needed, in absence of their biggest names.

5. HC Vardar

Jan Pytlick and Indira Kastratovic continued on their last season’s joint effort to make Vardar the leading force in the Champions League, with the team that had endured the least changes of all their rivals, suggesting belief in cohesion and mutual strength as their main driving force.

Andrea Lekic has rediscovered her lethal touch to orchestrate the backcourt, and Penezic have found a great variety in her game, now able to help the team more in defensive phase.

The authoritative performance against Midtjylland (25:15) was the picture-perfect example of Pytlick’s and Kastratovic intention. Everything came together with the fine execution of deep 6-0 defence on the verge of 5-1 and the entire backcourt working cohesively with Anja Althaus to free up Andrea Lekic’s creative potential.

4. CSM Bucuresti

What better way to start your Champions League maiden voyage than by asserting yourself among the frontrunners straight from the outset?

CSM are winning, as are doing it with style and understated elegance.

Isabelle Gulldén’s on-court mastery was evident throughout the CSM Bucuresti’s campaign. Playing with freedom created by confidence, the playmaker pulled strings to CSM’s impressive foray in all four of their victorious group matches.

However, arguably the most imposing performance from the Romanian side was the dramatic draw in Podgorica (23:23), where the rampant CSM were on the verge of sensation, showing real potential in almost as equally relentless defence as their title-defending counterparts. Gulldén’s eight-goal performance (35 goals overall) was backed by Franca da Silva and Line Jorgensen’s effort, as well as the Grubisic-Pessoa rotation in goal, which resulted with an important point won, and a huge point gained.

3. Györi Audi ETO KC

They are back with a vengeance. As last season’s nemesis Vardar could not hurt them in both of their encounters (27:22 and 28:27), Györ’s major reconstruction in the off-season was proven to pay dividends from early on.

Ambros Martin truly is gifted with a squad for great deeds, as the legendary Anita Görbicz is starting to get back to her old majestic self, most recently in an eight-goal masterclass against Vardar in Skopje (28:27); while the evergreen pivot Heidi Løke is on song the entire season with 24 goals, forming one of the most lethal partnerships in the Champions League.

Moreover, the likes of ever-dependable Tomori and Kovascics with the potent Brazilian Amorim Taleska, while Groot and Sulland are still in quest of perfect form, give the Hungarian powerhouse an enviable rotation.

But with everything in place, consistency is what they are after. The FC Midtjylland result will serve as a warning, having succumbed to a shocking loss in the Audi Aréna (21:26).

2. Rostov-Don

From dark horse to serious contenders, the beautifully consistent performances from Rostov-Don have been a genuine breath of fresh air in the competition. Jan Leslie’s inventive symbiosis of well-schooled Russian talent and Danish tactical awareness reserved them the bragging rights of a perfect season in the opening six matches, having put all three of their group rivals, Larvik, HCM Baia Mare and Krim, to the sword.

Rostov’s impeccably timed rotation with Katrine Lunde and Anna Sedoykina working as one unit in goal; allowed spread-out contributions from all across. Ekaterina Ilina is the team’s standout performer, having netted nine of her 34 goals in what is arguably Rostov’s best showing so far – a 27:21 triumph against Larvik in Norway.

Appraised by many for his immediate impact in Rostov’s competition debut, the diligent tactician Leslie has shown more than a few tricks from up his sleeve going into the main round with the only unblemished record.

1. Buducnost

The relentless defending champions have made an early claim on the title yet again. Following their undefeated run, the Montenegrin girls are the experts’ choice as the most convincing side thus far.

While “still not at the very pinnacle of their form”, as stated by Dragan Adzic, evident in their 23:23 draw against the eager CSM Bucuresti, Buducnost have displayed all the tenaciousness and vigour of seasons past.

But what puts this wonderfully cohesive side a notch above their rivals?

The backbone of the team, with Neagu and Bulatovic scoring a combined effort of 75 goals already in the competition, paired with the venomous fast-break impact from the feisty Mehmedovic and Petrovic.

Exemplified by the cohesion among the players, the game plan built around their shatterproof 6-0 defence looked authoritative as ever, and still an unsolvable puzzle for vast majority of the Champions League sides.


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / cor
 
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